The Mediterranean Diet is arguably the healthiest way to eat. But did you know that some of your Greek eating habits may not be serving you? Lifestyle & Health Columnist Roula Marinos Papamihail explains in the first of a 2-part series.
Let’s take a closer look at the Mediterranean Diet and some of our ‘Greek eating habits’.
Benefits of Greek Food and Traditions
The Mediterranean Diet and eating habits have long been associated with optimal health. There are now a multitude of Greek food products in the marketplace that are immediately associated with good health, such as olive oil, honey, and yogurt. Greek recipes for tzatziki, chicken, and stuffed tomatoes, are going viral. Even the word “Greek” is being slapped on the labels of all sorts of products to make them more appealing to health-conscious consumers. Today, this lifestyle is also now associated with longevity and overall happiness.
Of course, our Greek eating habits DO serve as a wonderful guide and superb way of eating especially when compared to the SAD diet (Standard American Diet). Shifting to the Mediterranean Diet has helped countless numbers of individuals take and or maintain control of their overall health.
Great news! Right?
Yes. However, there are ways as well as things we have learned to eat – some of our Greek eating habits – that aren’t beneficial to us AND are worth taking into consideration when seeking optimal health. Let’s examine this further, and start with the “good” habits.
Greek eating habits that DO serve us
What are the “good” Greek eating habits that have contributed too many people’s overall health?
1) Real food and lots of greens
The number one, most well-known benefit of the Mediterranean Diet is that most dishes are cooked and prepared with whole real foods, lots of greens, lots of olive oil, and a variety of both animal and plant proteins. Additionally, traditional Greek eaters knew where their food came from. Greens were from their garden or a neighbor’s, or were purchased at the local laiki (farmers market). Meat came from the butcher who got his animals from his village’s farm. These are all key beneficial characteristics of the Mediterranean Diet.
Individualizing your current diet to incorporate these characteristics, is one of the easiest ways to shift you’re diet to a more Mediterranean-style diet.
TIP: If you don’t have a local “laiki” nearby, you can still make an effort to source your food from a sustainable local food source.
2) Keep it simple
The traditional Greek table focuses on simple foods, intuitively combined in the most nutritionally synergistic way possible. Today, technology gives us immediate access to all sorts of complicated 3-to-5 course meal recipes. This may actually be a hindrance in taking the initiative to prepare your own food, because it can become overwhelming.
TIP: Traditional foods are whole fresh foods prepared in the simplest of manners. Don’t be overwhelmed by all the choices. Keep it simple.
3) Say yes to family time
Traditional Greeks are known to sit together at meal time and reconnect with each other. While ancient Greek men and women ate separately, today, eating with the family separate from technology is more applicable.
Taking the time to eat a meal with the whole family or extended family is a must, especially in today’s fast-paced world. While the timing of shared meals may need to change, making an effort to do this has many short and long term benefits.
TIP: If shared dinnertime is hard to achieve in your home, then shift your mindset to sharing either breakfast or lunch — or even snack time. The common saying of “a family who eats together stays together” is a statement worth adhering to.
While this before-dinner ritual has drastically shifted over thousands of years, the act of implementing a ritual remains the same. Obviously, modern Greeks no longer do what the ancients did (pour wine and sing to the gods) but instead take the time to give thanks for the meal they’re about to enjoy.
Starting your meal with a prayer and/or the sign of the cross not only fosters gratitude, which in turn promotes happiness, but also affects your body at a positive physiological level. Prayer before eating increases salivation as well as digestive enzymes, releases hormones, and adjusts breathing patterns. All of these are necessary for optimal digestion and optimal health.
TIP: Take a few minutes to pray prior to eating. It can make the world of a difference to how you tolerate and enjoy your food.
“There is no harm in repeating a good thing.”
These are just a handful of the beneficial traditional Greek eating habits that are worth adhering to — and if you aren’t doing these things already, consider implementing them — they’re beneficial for overall health.
As for the Greek eating habits that may NOT be serving you? Read part 2.
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